In law school, Clint Bearden interned for Superior Court Judge Jason Deal, who considered the Dawson County native to be “deliberative and good-tempered.”
Now the two are colleagues in the same circuit, though Bearden doesn’t yet have his own courtroom space.
“All I need is a table and chair that I can put a laptop on and a courtroom to sit in, and I’m good to go,” Bearden said.
Bearden was appointed Dec. 21 by Gov. Nathan Deal as the fifth Superior Court judge in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit that covers Hall and Dawson counties. The appointment comes as Hall County works to move Juvenile and Probate courts to the courthouse annex.
Court Administrator Reggie Forrester said Bearden will eventually have the court suite on the second floor, which is currently used by Magistrate Court. He did not have an updated timetable for the move-in.
“I may be a little bit of a migrant for the first seven or eight months,” he said.
Forrester said there are some vacant offices formerly used by Superior Court Judge John Girardeau. Down behind the front-door security, Bearden opened his office for the first time Wednesday.
Bearden’s mother retired from the Division of Family and Children Services and his father was a mechanic. Neither had the opportunity to attend college, and both toiled endlessly to provide for his family, Bearden said.
Bearden said he remembers sweeping up his father’s shop and looking at his father’s cut, bruised and oil-covered arms. His father instilled in him the value of education that could lead to a fruitful career.
The law represented an opportunity to do work Bearden could be proud of and remain close to his roots. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Georgia in 2005 and graduated from the UGA law school in 2008.
“It was attractive to me because it was the ability to earn a living kind of anywhere in Georgia, and really for me that meant back in North Georgia,” he said.
He had also worked as a legislative aide in the Georgia General Assembly, which introduced him to Speaker of the House David Ralston.
“In 2010, David had reached out to me knowing that I was a young attorney in the area and he needed to have someone come and join his firm,” Bearden said, adding Ralston’s former partner was appointed to a judgeship.
Bearden saw the opportunity to gain invaluable trial experience.
Attempts to reach Ralston for comment were unsuccessful.
“You would think working for the speaker would get you around government a lot, and the reality is he’s gone so much. I’m spending most of my time at the law practice, and I think that was really the best thing for me,” Bearden said.
Seven people submitted applications to the Judicial Nominating Commission for the seat. The short list came down to Bearden, Hall County State Court Judge Larry Baldwin and Northeastern Judicial Circuit Chief Juvenile Court Judge Lindsay Burton.
“I’m kind of looking at that thinking that I may be the weak link here, but I’m encouraged by the fact I felt like my background really would help me,” Bearden said. “One of the things that I felt like was a strength that I had is I have had the ability to practice all types of law when you work in a general practice and trial practice like I have.”
Bearden said he has practiced in more than 20 counties across North Georgia, working almost every type of case imaginable.
Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge John Worcester said Bearden appeared numerous times in his courtroom, calling him a straightforward quick learner.
“He’s not one of those people that I see carries grudges one way or another... He gets his business done and moves on to something else, which frankly from my standpoint speaks very highly of anybody who does that,” Worcester said.
Bearden also worked as a magistrate judge alongside Judges Lisa Poss-Thurmond and Anthony Tarnacki.
Tarnacki said he considered Bearden to have a great work ethic and to be well versed in the law.
“We’re very happy for him, very proud for him but we hated to lose him, and now we’re going to have to go through the process to replace him,” he said. “In the meantime, that means it’ll be more for me and Judge Thurmond to handle.”
Bearden has kept in touch with clients who found themselves in one of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit’s accountability courts. He has mentioned to Superior Court Judge Jason Deal his interest in assisting with Drug Court.
“I think one of the areas that is kind of evolving now that you’re going to see that’s obviously a great interest is looking at domestic violence accountability courts. That’s an area that’s kind of being shaped right now to find ways to curb these issues with domestic violence,” Bearden said.
Before Bearden was selected, the group Voters Organized for Trusted Election Results in Georgia sent a letter to the governor asking him to not be appointed. The concern stemmed from his involvement in the arrest of Nydia Tisdale, who was recording a campaign rally at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in August 2014.
“Mr. Bearden testified that candidates who attended the Aug. 23, 2014, rally at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm did not want to be video recorded. The state was unable to produce a single candidate who objected to being recorded at the rally in which you were present,” according to the VoterGA letter. “Mr. Bearden’s testimony was impugned by all five of the statewide Republican candidates who were present for the event and testified that they had no objections.”
Tisdale was found guilty of misdemeanor obstruction of an officer, but not on more serious charges of felony obstruction and criminal trespass.
When asked if he would act differently in hindsight, Bearden said he never wants to be a part of anything that causes harm to another person.
“I would have loved to see things go and happen differently, but outside of that I don’t really dwell upon it because there’s a process that’s existed and I’ve stayed out of that process,” Bearden said. “I’ve not been involved other than having to appear as a witness by subpoena.”
Bearden and wife Jamey have been married for 11 years, having known each other through all of grade school. The two did not begin dating until college, Bearden said.
The couple have three children — Henry, Jay and Charlotte — and are expecting another in March.
“Two to three was an interesting transition. You go from man-to-man to zone defense at that point in time,” Bearden said.
Jason Deal said he has faith in Bearden to be successful in the circuit.
“You’ve just got to work hard and you can’t make everybody happy. You just do the best you can. Try not to get too angry about anything. Try to do what you thinks best, and that’s about all you can do,” Deal said.